When my son hit middle school, I realized just how unorganized I was.
All of a sudden he was playing drums in band, joining a fantasy baseball league and begging me to sign him up for travel baseball.
All of his formerly awesome toys are now uncool and stacked up endlessly in his closet to prevent his buddies from seeing them.
My post-its-all-over-the-house attempt at keeping on top of his schedule failed miserably. And it took only one time seeing the humiliation on his face when his new pal saw the teddy bear he won two summers earlier come plummeting out of his closet while he was searching for a football.
It was time to admit I was an organizational mess. I was one post-it away from falling apart at the seams.
But according to Maude Brickner, owner of a professional organization business called A Method For Your Madness, said many families haven't learned the key to organization.
"Staying on top of your life is hard," she said. "There are so many demands pulling at people in life that getting and staying organized is a tough task."
But she believes learning a few key organizational rules and tools, and adjusting them to fit your life, can help ease stress.
Piles Of Paper
Brickner said one of the most important things to keep organized is paperwork.
"A tremendous amount of paperwork comes into the house each day," Brickner said. "Managing that can be a huge task in itself."
Maria Gracia, author of "Finally Organized, Finally Free For The Home," said to set up an incoming station to place permission slips, report cards and papers that need to be signed. She said the papers should be looked at daily.
Gracia, founder of Get Organized Now!, said incoming bills are most important.
"You don't want the electricity turned off or the car repossessed because you forget to make the payments."
Brickner said if it is impossible for you to go through papers each day, having only one place to let it pile up is essential.
She also said to have a trashcan near where you get your mail, to throw away junk mail items.
"Don't let things that are trash into the house," she said.
Brickner said the home should be like a sanctuary and the place you can relax.
"People who do not feel comfortable in their own homes don't have that opportunity," she said. "It is like being on a hamster wheel every second of every day."
Everything In Its Place
Gracia said everything should have a place within the home. "Items without homes are homeless. And being homeless is never a good thing."
Once it has a home, don't forget where it is. Gracia said you could avoid this by placing things in logical places. For example, hair accessories should be stored together in a basket close to where the person does their hair.
But when things do get out of place, Brickner said, cleaning up every half-hour doesn't help.
"Make putting things away part of your nightly routine," she said. "After you eat, go around and place things back where they belong."
As far as your child's space, Brickner said backing off is best.
Create a system they can work with and places for things to go. Set expectations and ground rules, such as what is allowed in their room and what is not acceptable.
"Let them know that there needs to be a clear path to the door and that it has to remain clean and safe."
Beyond that, she said, let them take care of their own space.
"It's their room, give them a break," she said. "Kids have so very little that they are in charge of; let their space be one."
Things that are out of date, broken or just never used don't need to be cluttering up your space, either. Once they are no longer of developmental interest or are broken, they should be donated or thrown out.
Brickner said it isn't always the amount of stuff that causes problems, it is the way it is used within the space.
Brickner said keeping things off surfaces where they don't belong can help avoid clutter.
"Certain things have certain functions. Bookshelves are good for books and so on," she said. "Use cabinets and table surfaces for what they were meant for."
Clear Your Surfaces
Brickner also recommends hanging things you want to display instead of covering tables with frames and things. When in doubt, use a shelf.
"Let your surfaces stay clear," she said. "Otherwise, before you know it, you don't have a place to eat a meal."
When you need to store things, both Brickner and Gracia highly recommend storing things in clear containers with lids. This keeps things off the floor and allows you to see what is inside.
When it comes to drawers, Gracia said to use dividers to store and organize things like flashlights, candles and matches.
Organize Your Closets
Gracia said she loves closets, but only those that are organized. She said adding shelving, hooks and clothing rods can keep them from being a mess.
If it's within budget, she highly recommends a professional closet system.
"It's a bit pricey at first, but a good one with lots of dividers can keep family members very organized with less effort," she said.
Stay On Schedule
Brickner said managing a schedule is also a big piece of the organizational puzzle. She believes schedules should be comfortable and allow time for relaxing during the day.
And keeping your to-do list realistic can leave a lot more time for relaxing.
Gracia said many families cause their own disorganization problems by taking on too much.
"Every family has its limitations, even super-organized ones," she said. "Sometimes just doing away with one or two activities can make a huge difference."
But to keep track of the stuff you can't kick off the list, Gracia recommends using a dry erase board calendar on the fridge to keep track.
A message station can also keep a family informed. Gracia said to create a board with a section for each family member.
"When messages need to be left for specific family members, the person can jot it down on the sticky note and place the note in the appropriate section on the board."
Don't Forget Fun
Gracia said an organized family has more time to have fun together.
"Once everyone does his or her chores, everyone can go out for some fun in the park," she said.
She also said your organization can help your children in the long run. She said when kids see organized parents, they tend to be more organized later in life.
And don't be too hard on yourself if you can't fit it all in one day.
If things do slip through the cracks, Gracia said there is no sense in crying over spilled milk. But people should try to figure out what went wrong.
"The best thing is to determine what happened and what can be done so it doesn't occur again in the future," she said.